Effects of projected climate change on the hydrology in the Mono Lake Basin, California

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Springer Netherlands


The Californian Mono Lake Basin (MLB) is a fragile ecosystem, for which a 1983 ruling carefully balanced water diversions with ecological needs without the consideration of global climate change. The hydroclimatologic response to the impact of projected climatic changes in the MLB has not been comprehensively assessed and is the focus of this study. Downscaled temperature and precipitation projections from 16 Global Climate Models (GCMs), using two emission scenarios (B1 and A2), were used to drive a calibrated Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) hydrologic model to assess the effects on streamflow on the two significant inflows to the MLB, Lee Vining and Rush Creeks. For the MLB, the GCM ensemble output suggests significant increases in annual temperature, averaging 2.5 and 4.1 °C for the B1 and A2 emission scenarios, respectively, with concurrent small (1–3 %) decreases in annual precipitation by the end of the century. Annual total evapotranspiration is projected to increase by 10 mm by the end of the century for both emission scenarios. SWAT modeling results suggest a significant hydrologic response in the MLB by the end of the century that includes a) decreases in annual streamflow by 15 % compared to historical conditions b) an advance of the peak snowmelt runoff to 1 month earlier (June to May), c) a decreased (10–15 %) occurrence of ‘wet’ hydrologic years, and d) and more frequent (7–22 %) drought conditions. Ecosystem health and water diversions may be affected by reduced water availability in the MLB by the end of the century.